By Nancy Moral
The holidays are a special time for family and friends to get together. It’s not uncommon for us to visit a senior loved one who would benefit from our help. As you make your holiday plans, think about how you can help your loved one with things in the home so they don’t have to do it later. Offering your assistance during your holiday visit is a great way to show love and support in ways that linger on throughout the year. It’s natural to be concerned that your loved one remains safe and happy in their home as they age. You have a great opportunity during your holiday visit to help them … and make your visit even more meaningful.
My mother-in-law is approaching 80 and is very active, but she cannot manage heavy lifting or reaching any longer. She really looks forward to my visits so she can take advantage of my help. I have made it clear that I want her to use me when I visit. I help her move furniture or lift things to either put them away or get them from hard-to-reach places. I take heavy things out to storage for her, too. I am glad she waits to do these things until I visit. She knows I am willing to help, and it saves her from trying to do some things by herself that could cause her to get hurt.
There are many practical things you can help with during your visit this holiday. I will list a few important things. First, check on health issues. Is your loved one managing how they are taking their medications? Do they need to schedule vision, hearing or physical checkups? Secondly, is there anything in their home they need help with like changing smoke detector batteries, lightbulbs or air filters, or even defrosting the freezer? Thirdly, how are they handling their affairs, such as managing finances, keeping insurances updated, and getting around for social activities or fellowship? If you use your holiday visit to offer your help in these areas, the benefits will be felt during the holidays and afterwards. Remember HHH — Health, Home and Handling affairs.
Sometimes we are not sure how to approach the subject of offering our help; or when we do, our loved one just refuses any help, or says that they can’t think of anything they need. It’s hard for them to think of specific things they need help with when asked on the spot, and they might even feel that admitting they need help may be admitting they are not able to live independently. Still, it’s OK to remind them that you are always willing to help, because you want them to be comfortable and safe, and you understand that it’s natural that there may be some things they cannot easily do anymore. Saying this may put their mind at ease.
So, the first thing you do is to communicate over the phone while planning your trip that “during your visit” you want them to know you are available to help with “anything they can think of.” While their initial response may be to turn down your offer, giving them time to consider the benefits may open some doors. Whatever their response, send your loved one some handmade “coupons” for them to fill out with things they need done, and mail them in advance. Then they can give them to you when you arrive. This will help them remember your offer and give them time to think about it. Expressing ahead of time your sincere desire to help them can also allow you to point out things you see during your visit that need “fixing” without them feeling like you’re criticizing their ability to live independently.
One important note is that you should prepare yourself for the unexpected when you first arrive. You don’t want to overreact if you observe something unexpected, such as neglected housekeeping, or unsightly items stored around the house (hoarding), or some important things unattended to due to memory problems. Be more of an observer when you first arrive, and if a problem exists, think of a positive and helpful way to approach it instead of reacting emotionally. Talking things out calmly with helpful solutions will go a long way to resolving problems.
All that you do is appreciated, even if it’s just to clean, fix a meal, or help your loved one shop. Remind them that you want to help because you are thankful for them, and not because they can’t be independent. Let your loved one serve you, too. It brings pride and joy to them. It is sometimes important that they do what they can for themselves, such as their own laundry, because it is an acknowledgment to you and themselves of their continued independence.
When you tell them they are special to you, and that’s why you are looking for ways to help them, it supports them in their goal of being independent while giving them the help they need. Rest assured, your loved one likes to be special to you and other friends and family, and the support and love you offer during your holiday visit will last long past your special visit.
About the author: Nancy Moral holds an undergraduate degree in special education and a master’s degree in education. Before coming to work as a service coordinator at Advent Christian Village, she worked with the Senior Citizens Council of Madison County (Florida). Nancy is married and has three adult children.